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The War on Chronic Pain Sufferers

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There’s a war going on in America. Law-abiding chronic pain sufferers are caught in the middle of a battle between federal and state laws governing narcotic prescriptions, pharmacy regulations, and medical clinic practices. The war on opiate addiction has caused untold pain and harm for people who dutifully take their medications, refilling them as prescribed by their doctor.

My primary care doctor writes me three prescriptions for Hydrocodone every time I see him. These scripts are dated, meaning they CANNOT be filled before the date on the script. I am required to see my doctor every three months to get these scripts. Thus, my $25 a month prescription actually costs me $85 — almost $1,000 a year.

My doctor electronically sends these scripts to CVS. They remain on file until I call them and ask for a refill. The pharmacy refuses to refill narcotic prescriptions automatically. Every other drug I take is on automatic refill. What makes matters worse, I must call the pharmacy on the day my doctor wrote on the script. Not the day before, but the day of. This means I must remain at home on the day my prescription is refilled.

Today, Polly called CVS, requesting my September 13, 2021, refill. The pharmacy tech said it would be ready in an hour. We arrived at CVS at our appointed time only to find out that the pharmacy did not fill my prescription. Why? They didn’t have enough Hydrocodone to fill the script. Their order will be in on the 15th!

CVS had some Hydrocodone on hand but couldn’t partially refill my prescription because it is against the law for them to do so. I said, “Fine. Send it over to Walmart.” The twenty-something-year-old pharmacist replied, “we are not permitted to transfer Schedule II prescriptions.” I tried to explain to her what this would to do me (I have NO Hydrocodone at home and have been on pain management drugs since 2005), but it became quickly clear to me that no amount of pleading on my end was going to change the “rules of engagement.” This means I will be without pain medication for 48-72 hours.

A year ago, I was taking three drugs for pain. Thanks to policies instituted by my doctor’s practice (a large physician’s group), I had to stop taking two of those drugs. I am now held hostage to an opiate load number (morphine equivalent dose); not whether my pain is adequately treated. Ninety is the magic number. I am currently at sixty. So, like a feral cat, I take what I can get from my doctor, telling myself, “it could be worse.”

After leaving CVS, I called my doctor’s office, thinking he would send a two or three day prescription to Walmart. Unfortunately, thanks to the medical clinic’s “new and improved” phone system, I could not talk directly to my doctor or his nurse. The woman who answered the phone assured me that she would make sure they got my message. I impressed upon her the importance of getting my prescription problem fixed. I am sure I sounded like a drug-seeking addict. Almost seven hours later, no return call, and now the pharmacies are closed. And so, I am left without pain medication, knowing what is coming next. Just ask any chronic pain sufferer what happens when their medications are suddenly stopped.

Sudden cessation of narcotics brings all sorts of physical problems. Everyone in this story knows this, yet I am the one that bears the consequences. Not them; I do. I snarkily told the pharmacist that I might spend the day drinking booze. “Oh, don’t do that,” she replied. I wanted to ask her, “what should I do, then?” I said nothing, knowing that she likely had no real-world experience with serious pain. There’s only one answer to my question: suffer. Or die.

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can contact Bruce via email, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

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30 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Davie from Glasgow

    Jeez I hope this has been sorted out in some wy by the time of writing. 72 hours of withdrawal symptoms AND chronic pain would leave anyone begging for the end.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      Still no drugs until tomorrow afternoon, at the very least. I’m already “feeling” physical withdrawal symptoms: nerve pain, muscle pain, abdominal pain. My body feels like it is on fire.

  2. Avatar
    BJW

    Call the local ER? Ask if they can help? (Of course, I know this probably wouldn’t be good or insurance wouldn’t cover but dammit, I wish I could help.) If I thought the herbal pain relievers I had would help, I’d bring them to you. But they are far milder than opiates and I don’t know what the effect would be.

  3. Avatar
    Tyler

    Your doctor needs to electronically submit an extra prescription for a 48-hour supply of your pain medication, with the explicit direction that those doses are to be used only in times when there is a gap in coverage. What that particular “gap-dose” prescription is for should be clearly documented in the prescription information transmitted to the pharmacy itself and in your patient record. There is no Board of Pharmacy in any of these 50 states that would look down upon doing that. Living a pain-free life of value is not a privilege – it is a right that you and every other patient indelibly have.

  4. Avatar
    Troy

    Such stories make me so angry. The war on drugs is actually a war on fellow Americans. I wish the “Drug czar” had the prerequisite being a chronic pain sufferer himself.

  5. Avatar
    ObstacleChick

    The stupid so-called “war on drugs” has been an absolute disaster, with people getting hurt in the crossfire. So sorry you have to deal with this garbage.

    • Avatar
      BJW

      OC, I’ve thought that the ones who need the drugs the most (Bruce and all of us pain sufferers) have a hard time getting them. But apparently, if you don’t care about breaking the law there are supposed to be pill doctors somewhere. Oh, and also before medical marijuana became legal in Ohio (which I don’t use yet due to logistics of getting it), I could’ve easily gotten it from one of my son’s friends. Didn’t think that was a good thing but he told me it would be easy! sigh

  6. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    Oh, Bruce that’s just terrible what you’re recounting there,and scary too ! The war on drugs is indeed farce !! Given that those who wrote those laws were in deep with the cartels to begin with. I’m related to big- time drug traffickers, so I know that subject only too well. I read about the opiate issues in the Northeast and Midwest, once the traditional hub of manufacturing, and no longer having those good paying,secure jobs is a major reason for that problem. Trump made it harder for all but the wealthy. And now there’s the matter of the supply- line for many goods. Including medication. A plan needs to be drawn up ahead of time,to anticipate interruptions in the future, because China and India make these compounds instead of American workers’.

  7. Avatar
    BJW

    It’s horrible. A few times I’ve come up short with the things I need the most to rest (at least a little) comfortably at night. It really sucks and I’m hoping as I type that you’ve been to the pharmacy, got your meds and are more comfortable. And maybe get a nap even though it’s hard to sleep at night, because after last night you deserve some good rest. (HUGS)

  8. Avatar
    BJW

    Also, I’ve heard about how so many people can get all these drugs when they want. I’m a relatively law-abiding person, and I’ve never come into contact with any docs who would prescribe big quantities of these drugs. Quite the reverse, I guess my medical people are all honest. But then, most of them don’t want to give me any opiates ever.

    I’ve thought about trying medical marijuana. People I know from states where they can easily get marijuana tell me it really relieves pain, I suspect by putting a person in a good, mellow mood. I haven’t gone there yet because it was difficult to get here. However, I did hear the rules have been changed during the pandemic. If I ever get any I will report on its effects.

  9. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Someone I knew was in the Coast Guard when Nancy was intoning, “Just Say No.” He was involved in chasing smugglers. His verdict on the “War On Drugs”: “Stupid, They might as well burn the money they’re spending on it.”

    Worst of all, though, are the people–like you, Bruce–caught in the crossfire. To the folks who crafted those policies, a drug is a drug is a drug.

    I wish I knew what to do to ease your pain–mental as well as physical.

    • Avatar
      BJW

      MJ, I’m convinced if all the drugs that were abused were confiscated and destroyed, not one left on this planet, well, the next day would spring up multiple labs all over the planet and people creating new drugs to sell. (That’s probably happening anyway.) The problem is the DEMAND, and the US demands its illegal drugs. It’s a perfect metaphor for capitalism.

  10. Avatar
    thatotherjean

    I feel your pain–almost literally, because I’ve had that happen to me before. I take hydrocodone and Tramadol every day of my life, precisely as prescribed, and have done for about as long as you have. Without them, it’s painful to get out of bed, and impossible to do anything but hurt once I’m out. I get that there’s an opioid crisis, but there really need to be separate rules for chronic pain sufferers. I hope your problem is resolved by the time this comment reaches you.

  11. Avatar
    amy b

    Whenever there’s a problem, you can count on our government’s response to make it worse. Too bad our current system yields legislators who are intellectually lazy and have no empathy!! 🤗 to you!

  12. Avatar
    Joseph Mitchell

    Hi. Good evening. I’ve had an extremely painful mouth condition 9 months. It lately resembles Ludwig’s Angina spreading from a cavity in my wisdom tooth. I can’t talk or eat. I’ve lost 50 lbs. People are shocked and comment. I used to be a 195 lb. Linebacker. Now I am an emaciated 144. I take a lot of Kroger pills like analgesic and nsaid. I’ve been on the sober train 11 days. I do this. I also drink sometimes. I had a 7 day binge where I did nothing nor ate anything except Miller Lite. I can’t get very wine drunk on light beer, only a light buzz. Cold light beer seemed to reduce swelling and reduce pain. Milk shakes at McDonald’s seem to have the same effect. Today I had three, chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. Metro General turned me away for lack of insurance. I knew they would. This is not my first rodeo. TN is chock retarded on these kinds of issues. They care about one thing only, putting the bible inside the state Capitol building and calling it our state book.

    • Avatar
      BJW

      Joseph, can’t you see a dentist or a family doctor? At the least your infection could be treated. I’ve had a lot of dental work. I’ve also been on antibiotics when a crown broke and there was pain.

      I hope you can call around some and see if someone can help. I know that sometimes nurse practitioners are cheaper than physicians. But it sounds like you need to be treated ASAP. The type of infection sounds very, very serious, and any infection that is left untreated could kill you.

      *If you have no insurance and need meds, Goodrx.com will give you discount on meds. It won’t work on everything but on antibiotics it is usually good and gives you a discount. Also, common antibiotics are usually cheap anyway.

      *Goodrx.com also can do a phone/computer consult with a physician for conditions that can be treated with antibiotics. My husband did that last year and the cost of the phone appt was $35. Good luck!

    • Avatar
      thatotherjean

      Joseph, do you live near a university with a dental school? You might see if they’d take you on as a patient, since they look for people to practice on.

  13. Avatar
    Barbara L Jackson

    I have epilepsy If I do not take my 3 different anti-seizure drugs I need I will probably have “partial” seizures which are “milder” than tonic-clinic seizures.

    You should not be punished for your physical condition

    Obviously the war on drugs has hurt you

    New anti-pain drugs need to be developed

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Bruce Gerencser